DITCH THE PERSONALITY QUIZZES
When the Guru team took the ‘Friends Personality Test’, Nature Guru Autumn Sartain turned out to be most like Rachel. Surprisingly, Deputy Editor Ross is a bit of a Phoebe. Columnist Leila Wildsmith gives her take on whether we should bother with personality tests at all. (She’s such a Chandler…)
Is it just me, or have you noticed the recent increase in the number of quizzes available online? One that has been doing the rounds on Facebook is the test that reveals the famous personality you are most like. With just a few simple questions, you can discover your secret rock god or movie star identity. While I’m sure not many of us take these personality tests seriously – I don’t really bear much resemblance to an espresso, as one such quiz suggested – their seeming popularity suggests a cultural and generational identity crisis. In the past, without quizzes or tests to determine personality, people were forced to look inside themselves – or to their family, friends or job – for their identity. They may not have liked what they found, but at least they knew who they were. But our media-driven world exposes us to an increasingly endless array of personalities, which can leave us increasingly unaware of who we really are. Kendra Cherry, author of The Everything Psychology Book, asserts that “In today’s rapidly changing world, identity crises are more common”. According to her, many of us are asking, as Shakespeare’s tragic hero King Lear did, “Who is it that can tell me who I am?” An identity crisis isn’t always a bad thing though. The word ‘ crisis’ has its roots in the Greek word for ‘ decision’ and suggests a significant turning point or a decisive moment. We all have defining moments – points that in some way affect our identity. In addition, assessing ourselves and trying to define who we are is an essential part of human development. Professor Susan Krauss Whitbourne writes in her online article ‘Are you having an identity crisis?’ that “an identity ‘crisis’ may occur any time [when] you’re faced with a challenge to your sense of self.” Furthermore, the famous developmental psychologist, Erik Erikson, believed crises to be perfectly normal. He defined several stages of ‘crisis’ that occur in life, including a ‘ Who am I?’ conflict in adolescence, and the question of ‘ Will I be loved or will I be alone?’ in young adulthood. Taking time to evaluate our values, our likes and dislikes, our skills and our beliefs is an important process. But it can become a problem when quizzes and tests offer us an opportunity to assess ourselves on a daily basis. Of course, we don’t have to partake in any of them, but when everyone else seems to be doing it, it becomes irresistible. And in measuring ourselves in this way, it can be all too easy to lose our sense of self. Importantly, it seems that the actual identity to which we commit to is
not as significant as the act of committing: Cherry writes, “Researchers have found that those who have made a strong commitment to an identity tend to be happier and healthier than those who have not.” I have taken several of these quizzes (strictly for research purposes, of course). Whilst I am pleased to discover that I have an affinity with one of my childhood heroines – Disney’s Little Mermaid, Aerial – I was less than excited by the results of one Downton Abbey character quiz that revealed I am most like the “jealous, overlooked” middle sister, Edith. Neither am I delighted by the Friends character quiz, which told me that I am most like a man. The problem with these quizzes is that they don’t affirm our true identity: even the results that I’m pleased with are disappointing in as far as I don’t believe them to be real. While I might see some similarities to my own personality, I don’t feel as though I fully live up to the character description. What’s more, the quiz results never fully capture who I am. And how could they? I’ve only answered a handful of questions – and many of these require choosing the best answer out of a bad bunch.
Shakespeare’s personality test: chasing your shadow
Perhaps Shakespeare shows us something when the only response Lear gets to his question about his identity is “Lear’s shadow.” Shakespeare realised what we sometimes fail to see: that asking other people to define us actually diminishes us – we become shadows of our real selves. Ten questions on a website that take me less than ten minutes to answer can no more tell me who I am than the stranger I’ve made polite small talk with for a ten-minute train journey. In our technologically-driven pursuit of ourselves, we dilute our true identities. Psychologist Mel Schwartz captures this perfectly when he writes, “The irony is that the more you seek to identify who you are, the more fragile you are likely to feel about yourself”. He continues, “Our identity should be seen as an ongoing process. Rather than a static snapshot, we should embrace a flowing sense of self, whereby we are perpetually re-framing, re-organising, re-thinking and re-considering ourselves. How different would life be if rather than asking “who am I?”, we contemplated how we’d like to engage life?” In asking the question “who am I?” we frustrate ourselves by trying to condense our whole nature and existence into a single phrase. It is far better to understand that our sense of self is not a fixed identity that is ripe for definition by different quizzes, but is something that evolves and develops over time and, with different experiences, allows us to feel comfortable with the process of selfdiscovery. Or as Krauss Whitbourne says, “It’s healthy to keep exploring your values, roles, and sense of self regardless of your age”. However you choose to do this, don’t start on Facebook.